Li Na (李娜, born 26 February 1982) is a Chinese former professional tennis player, who achieved a career-high ranking of world No. 2 on the WTA Tour on 17 February 2014. Over the course of her career, Li won nine WTA singles titles, including two Grand Slam singles titles at the 2011 French Open and 2014 Australian Open. Li’s rise to prominence came after those victories, which made her the first and only Grand Slam singles champion from East Asia and Asia as a whole. Prior to this, she had already become the first player representing an East Asian and Asian country to appear in a Grand Slam singles final, a milestone she achieved at the 2011 Australian Open. Li was also the runner-up at the 2013 Australian Open and 2013 WTA Tour Championships, a three-time quarterfinalist at Wimbledon and a semifinalist at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games and 2013 US Open. Among her other most notable accolades, she was the first Chinese player to win a WTA tour title at the Guangzhou International Women’s Open in 2004, the first to reach a Grand Slam singles quarterfinal at the 2006 Wimbledon Championships, and the first to break into the world’s top 10. Her feats have sparked a major population growth of tennis players in East Asia, earning her the reputation as the region’s tennis pioneer and trailblazer.
Li Na was born on 26 February 1982 in Wuhan, Hubei, China. Her mother is Li Yanping (李豔萍); her father, Li Shengpeng (李盛鵬), was a professional badminton player and later worked as a sales rep for an Wuhan-based company. He died from a rare cardiovascular disease when Li was fourteen. Her mother didn’t tell Li Na that her father had died for many weeks, thinking it would affect her game.
At age six, Li followed her father’s footsteps and started playing badminton, which honed her reflexes. Just before she turned eight, Li was persuaded to switch to tennis by coach Xia Xiyao of the Wuhan youth tennis club. Her instructors taught tennis through negative reinforcement, which affected Li’s confidence in later years. Li joined China’s National Tennis Team in 1997. The following year, Li, sponsored by Nike, went to John Newcombe Academy in Texas to study tennis.She studied there for 10 months and returned to China. Growing up, her favourite tennis player was Andre Agassi. She turned professional in 1999 at the age of sixteen.
Li’s first tournament of 2010 was the 2010 ASB Classic in Auckland, where she was seeded second. She was defeated by Kaia Kanepi in the first round. In the Medibank International, she defeated fourth seed Caroline Wozniacki but lost to Flavia Pennetta in the second round.
At the 2014 Australian Open, Li competed as the fourth seed.
Li retired from professional tennis on 19 September 2014.
Li was an aggressive baseliner whose game was founded upon her quick reflexes, athleticism and powerful groundstrokes that achieved precision, placement and depth. Li’s crosscourt forehand tended to be her favourite shot, hit with great accuracy and pace, although her backhand was said to be the more consistent and reliable groundstroke, both of which she was known to unleash unpredictably to all areas of the court to dictate play.
As the most successful East Asian, and Asian tennis player ever, Li has become one of the most well-known and marketable athletes in the world. In 2013, Li appeared on the cover of Time magazine, which named her to its annual list of the 100 Most Influential People in the World; Li being one of only four athletes to be named on the list. Former world No. 1 Chris Evert writes: “Tennis has exploded in China. The country now has some 15 million tennis players; 116 million watched Li win the French Open. That kind of exposure is crucial to our sport, and it never would have happened without Li. At tournaments, I’ve seen her charm the crowds. When she smiles, everyone melts. She’s just such a breath of fresh air. Her friendly on-court demeanour as well as her hilariously-witty post-match interviews brings a smile to everyone’s face.” Li also graced the cover of 26 May 2014 edition of Time magazine, which featured an article titled “The Passion of Li Na”, in which author Hannah Beech described Li as a world class sports idol, inspiring millions of Chinese people to regard her as an icon of pursuing independent character and freedom of thought. In 2012, Forbes listed Li as No. 85 in the Forbes Celebrity 100 list. Li, along with the fellow tennis players Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams, were the only three female athletes who cracked the Top 100 earning list. Li was ranked No. 5 and No.8 on the Forbes China Celebrity 100 list in 2012 and 2014 respectively. Li is affectionately called “Big Sister Na” (娜姐, pinyin: Nàjiě) among Chinese communities and is considered a “strong, unbending and unyielding” role model.
Li has a rose tattoo on her chest, but kept it hidden for many years since tattoos are widely considered unacceptable in China, especially on women.
On 19 January 2015, Li Na announced that she and her husband were expecting their first child. She gave birth to her daughter Alisa on 3 June 2015, a day out from the 4th anniversary of her French Open win.